A friend’s daughter spent the last several weeks in the hospital because she told her mom she was thinking about how to kill herself. She is a sweet, bright, beautiful girl and that she is able to believe that the world would be better without her in it just kills me. That same weekend another girl at her school did try to kill herself, and succeeded.
Ever since I’ve been mulling over and over and around and around just what sort of words I could say that would help her.
I still don’t know.
But I realized it ties into my series on learning to not be afraid, these thoughts I keep thinking.
So here is what I would say to her if we were sitting down together, just the 2 of us to have a chat.
It’s actually quite normal to think about dying you know, I think. Just about everyone does. I have, hundreds of times and in various sorts of ways, just as I imagine what I’ll do when/if my loved ones die also.
It’s actually a sign of intelligence and imagination to wonder what the world would be like if you weren’t in it. After all, you’re smart enough to know that on a long enough time line, everyone dies. What’s the difference if it happens now, or in a few decades?
I know, the first time you have that thought, the one where you realize just how easily you could severe your tenuous grip on life and leave it all behind forever, it’s terrifying. Responsibility is somewhat terrifying, and the first thing we often realize we’re responsible for is our own selves.
You’re not a child anymore. You understand now that you aren’t perfectly safe in this world, that you aren’t always protected.
You are the only one who stops yourself from harming yourself now. You are responsible for you, and it’s quite the weight. I would want to curl up in a ball and make it all disappear too. I know this because I did spend a lot of time curled up in a ball at one point. You’d be surprised. I either curled up in a ball, got so busy I couldn’t breathe, or read fiction voraciously, all to keep myself from thinking about such things.
Eventually you get comfortable with your own mortality. You learn to accept that thought of how easy it would be to die today without being afraid of it, or needing to act on it. It is after all, a fact. It would be so easy to die.
What is a lot harder, and requires a lot more courage is to live. You are going to need a really good reason.
Or not. I tend to think that life itself is it’s own reason.
Maybe what you just need is the habit of living.
(We used to joke about my great granny that living was such a habit for her that she couldn’t figure out how to die. She just kept on going, way past what anyone expected. One of the things she always did though was to take genuine pleasure in the little things, a visit, a cup of tea, and good breakfast. She was the most joyful person I knew.)
Decide, just for today, to live, and then figure out how you would like to live. What sort of life do you want? What do you hope to do with what you have been given? Start making choices based on how you will do that or get there. Soon enough you won’t find yourself facing the choice of what to do with the kitchen knife on the table anymore, because you already made that choice and you like the life that you are building.
But more than that I want you to try and remember to say thank-you. I know, it sounds so… so, trite. “Just cheer up and be thankful for what you’ve got.” It may even sound like a guilt trip, “How could you not be thankful for the life you’ve got and all the people who love you and etc, etc, blah, blah blah.”
But that’ not what I’m saying.
Thankfulness is something you have to practice to get good at it. Noticing the good is a habit that requires cultivation. So when you are with a friend, notice what you like about them. Pay attention to the details. When you eat something tasty, remember to notice it. When you are somewhere beautiful, take a moment to remember that it is a gift and to say thank-you for it. That’s all. It’s really very simple, though challenging enough at first. But practicing gratitude changes you.
It doesn’t make your problems go away, not by a long shot. You still notice all the stuff that sucks and hurts and makes you feel bad. But you know what it does do?
Being thankful gives you power over it. When you choose gratitude, to find the one thing in a sea of dark and to give thanks for it in spite of the rest, you take control of your life. You choose your response to the things you can’t control and that gives you power over them in a very profound way.
I know you feel powerless right now. There’s a lot coming at you and a lot that is out of your control. That life or death choice, the ability to end it, that feels like power, a way to exert control over everything, to opt out of what you can’t change.
That’s not your only option though. You need to know this. Sure there is stuff you can’t control, we all have stuff we can’t control, big scary, unhappy grownup types of things that we wish we could change. Often we can’t change it. But if you look closely at the people who are joyful and compare them to the people who are not you will realize that the joyful people are choosing how they respond to the circumstances they find themselves in. They are choosing, not reacting, and that is very important because they have power over themselves, and their reactions, and so they have power over their life.
They choose to trust, even when despair seems to be more logical. They choose to rejoice in everything that is good and praiseworthy and true. They choose to value life and every little gift they receive from it. They are the people who are making something good with the life that they have. Choosing gratitude makes them strong enough to weather the storms that come their way.
Will you give joy a chance? Just for today to begin with, will you choose your life and how you respond to it? It gets to be addictive you know, being alive. There is so much good in the world if you train yourself to notice it. I hope, for your sake, that you will give it a try.